As public support for Amber Heard continues to rapidly dwindle with each new day of testimony presented in the ongoing defamation lawsuit brought against her by Johnny Depp, Vox has attempted to blame the widespread lack of support for the Aquaman actress and her claims of domestic abuse on both a social groundwork laid by Gamergate and “an army of bots”.
Headlining her piece “Why the Depp-Heard trial is so much worse than you realize”, Vox staff writer Aja Romano attempt to fearmonger amongst the site’s terminally online audience of the critical social justice theory inclined opens with the declaration that there is “no longer any pretending that the Depp-Heard defamation trial was not a terrible, foreboding reflection of our culture’s worst impulses.”
Hilariously, Romano’s narrative falls apart before it can even get off the ground, as the writer quickly moves to claim that “The narrative of the trial has been shaped in part by what appears to be, according to multiple researchers, an army of bots spreading rhetoric favorable to Depp.”
“The work of those bots has been further amplified by ‘men’s rights activists’,” she adds, “the part of the far-right-leaning extremist ‘manosphere’ that seems to have decided discrediting Amber Heard is the key to destroying every woman who accuses men of abuse or domestic violence.”
In support of this claim, Vox cites an April 23rd report from Fox News wherein Cyabra CEO Dan Brahmy, whose company is “dedicated to improving online distance by detecting inauthentic behavior online”, reported that an analysis of 2,300 tweets found that 11% of the discourse surrounding the Depp-Heard trial was provided by bots.
However, contrary to Romano’s assertion that this boy activity was tilting the conversation in favor of Depp, the very article she cites explicitly states that “the majority of those inauthentic accounts are supportive of Heard, while most authentic accounts are supportive of Depp.”
Continuing on from shooting herself in the foot, Romano turns to take issue with how “Trial memes — almost universally weighted against Heard — have taken over every corner of the internet,” opining that “this surreal explosion of internet culture vilification of Heard feels dispiriting and troubling”.
“Recall that the white supremacist alt-right movement has a long history of memeifying everything they want to normalize and legitimize, and keep in the forefront of your mind that the alt-right latched onto this case as its bulwark long before fandom and the internet at large did,” she adds, hitting yet another set of tired buzzwords.
“By now, after years of political disinformation campaigns, we’re used to social media’s natural ability to contort reality,” says Romano. “Rarely, however, has it bent this far, this rapidly, for this many people, in service of something this vile.”
Accusing “basic human empathy of [seeming] to have completely flown out the window,” Romano next throws her unsurprising and full support behind Heard’s claims of abuse, arguing not only that the “contours of the abuse were well-established before the 2018 opinion column Depp is suing over was published”, but also that “the basic facts of the case have gotten their day in court once already” during Depp’s previous defamation trial against UK tabloid The Sun”.
“The basic, well-established facts do not seem to matter,” Romano ironically declared. “They do not seem to matter to people who would normally care about facts, truth, and nuance […] to the tabloid media gleefully reporting on every aspect of this case [or] to the TikTok creators who seize every chance to parody a tearful Heard, turning her objectively harrowing trial testimony into a farce of over-the-top fake weeping.”
“The facts do not seem to matter to any of the people who have gleefully latched on to the image of Heard as a manipulative villain, as if she split her own lip, punched her own face, and pulled out clumps of her own hair,” Romano further claims.
Unable to fully ignore such public revelations as Heard’s admission of hitting Depp or her failure to follow through on her publicly pledge to donate her entire $7 Million divorce settlement to charity, Romano then concedes that “It’s impossible to completely absolve Amber Heard, who has her own alleged history of violence,” though not without reaffirming her belief “that the major points of this trial have already been decided in one court of law”.
“The judge at the first trial in 2020 found Heard had proven 12 of 14 allegations of abuse,” she wrote. “So far none of the trial testimony has substantially contradicted anything in Heard’s original claim of being a domestic violence survivor.”
Pointing to a Twitter thread by Ella Dawson in which the critic, as described by Romano, warned that “this trial is not only destroying years of progress made against domestic abuse in the US, but also laying the groundwork for a culture in which bots and bad actors harass, vilify, and eviscerate all other prominent women who publicly name their abusers”, the Vox reporter posited that such a shift would be “like Gamergate, but times tens of millions of participants, and gleefully endorsed by people all across American culture.”
Unable – or perhaps unwilling – to acknowledge just why so many people across numerous social and political groups have disavowed Heard, Romano next lashes out, “This trial, which amounts to a simple yes/no question over whether Heard had the right to call herself a victim of domestic abuse in a single sentence from that 2018 opinion piece, has somehow united far-right misogynists with middle-of-the-road liberals and geeky progressive fandom acolytes of Depp.”
Drawing a direct comparison between those who have remained suspicious of Heard’s behavior and appearance during the trial – understandably so, as given how trials rely heavily on ‘presentation’, such aspects as outfits and idle behavior are regularly coordinated as part of legal strategy – to QAnon believers, Romano ultimately warns that “the Depp-Heard trial has refined the Gamergate playbook in a way that will haunt us for years to come.”
“It’s proven to extremists that if you rally around the right beloved public figure or institution, blanket them in a protective sphere of outrage and misinformation, and weaponize fandom culture — already so prone to ideological radicalization and irrational groupthink — you can successfully push whatever media narrative you want into the mainstream,” she laments. “There’s no coming back from this.”
Romano ends her piece with one last attempt to fearmonger, raising even further buzzword boogeymen by declaring, “It’s not a coincidence that this spectacle is playing out against a backdrop of perpetually escalating racist violence and the rapid erosion of decades of human rights for women, queer, and trans people.”
“The Depp-Heard trial has just trained millions of people to discard their own empathy, their own rational judgment, in exchange for the gleeful mockery, rejection, and belittlement of a woman making herself vulnerable in public,” she concludes. “If you don’t think that training will be weaponized against vulnerable targets, you haven’t been paying attention.”
What do you make of Vox’s attempt to blame Gamergate for the backlash against Heard? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!